[Part 2 of Mrs Chapman's "Story of Manx Methodism"]
After the death of John Wesley there were many who desired a different constitution for Methodism; they wanted more voice in running their own societies and circuits; they wanted more lay representation in Conference, and many matters outside the scope of this sketch. Although nothing really concrete came of it in the island, the matters concerned were well ventilated in the island press, which took violently partisan sides in the matter. There were several sources from which discontent was fed.
The Rev. Caesar Caine, a Manxman then living in an English circuit wrote in 1802 that he was leaving Methodism for 'the Methodists wish to take over the ship and throw the principles of the founder overboard' The Mona's Herald comment was "Those that believe this will believe anything ! "
Robert Aitken 1(whose story is told in more detail elsewhere)was honorary curate at St. Matthew's and held strong Methodist sympathies. he gave considerable help to the Wesleyan cause at Crosby in particular, and also to Castletown, becoming, indeed a Wesleyan local preacher in addition to his status as an ordained minister in the Anglican church.
But he was soon to become as dissatisfied with Methodism as he had been with the Anglicans, and - summarising his story briefly - we find. he left the island, left the boarding school he had established under Methodist Principles at Eyreton Castle2, and became an itinerant evangelist on 'reform' principles, allying himself, at least for some time, to The Wesleyan Methodist Association (there is a class ticket signed by him issued in a Yorkshire Society), and. many of his later activities are recorded in The Christian Advocate, an anti-Wesleyan newspaper.
In The Christian Advocate there appeared a letter signed "The Voice of Manx Methodism"; whether Aitken was the author we do not know, but suspicion fell, locally, on John Caine, a bookseller of Douglas. He was summoned to the Preachers' meeting in 1834 to explain the matter before the 64 preachers present. Caine admitted selling the paper in his shop, but denied writing the letter. The minister is reported. as having said "I regard you as immoral and expel you for selling pamphlets with falsehoods in them " The meeting was in an uproar, but the minister said it was his privilege to admit and to expel 3, and that Caine was no longer a local preacher.(Trial and expulsion of John Caine, 1835. Museum Library 4)
A number of Caine's class left with him. By April 10th 1835 the Mona's Herald carried the story of the first meeting of the Wesleyan Dissenters at St. James Mall. The editor5 of this paper did much to foster the bitterness; he wrote leading articles on The Intolerance of Wesleyan ministers: he urged members to 'stop supplies and bring Conference to its knees'; he had an article on what he called "the popish Law of Methodism " and every expulsion of preachers is fully enlarged upon.
The 'reformers' or 'dissenters' as they were variously called, made tentative efforts towards the Methodist New Connexion, which had grown up in Britain some forty years earlier, on similar, if not identical, principles. The reply came that the Home Mission Committee "could not take on an additional station which had not, means for its own support, at present." Another 50 years was to elapse before the matter was broached to them again.
The Wesleyan Methodist Association seemed another avenue of support and in July 1835 John Caine attended a meeting in Sheffield to discuss the matter. In 1836 Douglas and Ramsey are mentioned in W.M.A. schedules, but no figures are given. John Caine did not attend Conference that year, but his apology is recorded, and a request was made for one preacher for Ramsey 'as a meeting place is now available'. but it appears no preacher was then appointed.
We have little evidence of the succeeding years; newspaper reports speak of Wesleyan seceders, and Protestant Wesleyans; in 1848 they had a room in Athol Street, and Mona's Herald speaks of crowded meetings in Mr. Ward's rooms in Wellington Street. A John Cleator is named in the Directory as the local leader at Athol Street, and one Eward Edgar, whose brother was a recognised 'minister' of the Wesleyan Association was also in office at Athol Street.
The national history of the W.M.A. doesn't directly concern us in the island history; certain publication of an anti-Wesleyan nature caused the expulsion of three ministers and certain sympathy was expressed by island local preachers. and at a meeting in Mr. Ward's rooms it was decided to invite one or more of the three expelled ministers, Everett, Dunn and, Griffiths to speak in the island.
Local sympathy grew towards. some form of 'reform' through several causes and many heated discussions are reported around 1848-50, in The Manx Sun and Mona's Herald.
There had been simmering discontent over a rumour that the money subscribed by Methodism for the maintaining of a Theological College would be for ministers ' sons only: there had been much argument and dissension about the preaching of Teetotalism in Methodist pulpits and. there was a growing discontent because the ministers refused to give support to the then infant movement for supporting aged and poor local preachers, which we; now know as the L.P.M.A.
Francis Ward. an ironmonger in Duke street, and a local preacher, had. held a Temperance Meeting at Well Road without the sanction of the Minister, and he, with Ewan Christian of Peel came in for severe censure. The December 1849, Quarterly Meeting, on the proposition of the minister, excluded Ward from membership. A week later the Preachers' Meeting was held., and Ward attended. A pamphlet in the Museum Library, says that the minister tried to exclude him but he refused. to go unless the meeting, by a majority, put him out. Only the second minister, Theo. Talbot, agreed with the minister (Roger Moore) and the ministers then sent for the police to evict him: The police wisely refused to intervene, and the meeting moved to another room. Ward tried to follow, and some how a 'free-for-all' ensued, and the case was actually taken to court. Witnesses on Ward's side were convincing, and the case was dismissed: John Caine said, " I was previously expelled., now restored, but I am willing to go out again": Samuel Johnson said, 'If he is guilty so am I, we will go out together; Anthony Lewthwaite, Wm. Tyson and others all spoke for Ward, and the preachers left; Ward then took a room in Wellington Street, and began services there.
A second cause, dating from the previous year, doubtless had some effect on them too. Samuel Johnson 6, who had come from Manchester to a book shop in Strand Street, was distressed. by the poverty of local preachers in age or unemployment; he knew that a movement had begun in England to alleviate these conditions and he - with Francis Ward - and another preacher named Clarke, asked for a room at Thomas Street to hold an inaugural meeting. This was refused. In fairness to the Douglas minister his attitude was not unusual; L.P.M.A. meetings were being refused by many Wesleyan ministers in Britain; The Rev. Roger Moore is reported as having said, it would pauperise the Preachers and risk making them indolent. He was unwise enough, also, - if the report is true - to say that local preachers made a good. thing out of it in their business and trade, which aroused. Johnson to say he had never sold 'a pennorth of stuff from his shop through being a preacher'.
So :the two 'grievances'; teetotalism and. the local preachers'
care were discussed and magnified and were fresh fuel on the fire
Eventually it came to a head. The minister came to give out class tickets in 1850 and Edward Edgar and Anthony Lewthwaite both came out in open rebellion. On. Sept. 13th,1850 'an ecclesiastical court' as the local paper grandly calls it, was held and the police was present with staves. More pamphlets were printed and issued, particularly "Methodism as it is, or The Trial and Expulsion of Edward Edgar". Edgar, who lived in Prospect Hill was excluded, and joined Mr. Ward's party with ten members of his society class. Again in the Manx Museum. there is a spirited defence of the Ministers' actions , for any who care to read more about it. The reformers, by this time had. fully committed themselves, and. a leading article on the following January 30th sums up the situation.
"The tyrranical expulsions by the superintendent of the Douglas circuit have already produced results that cannot be misunderstood. The new meeting room is well attended twice every Sunday and for week night meetings also ..."
It was at a meeting in this room on Jan 30 1850 that they decided to invite over two of the ministers expelled from the Connexion on account of The Fly Sheet Controversy (a matter we cannot follow in detail in this brief sketch, but in main a suggested 'reform' of Methodism as it was). On June 19th Everett and Griffiths arrived by steamer and had a rousing reception. The Wesleyans turned out in forceful opposition! Griffiths preached in Douglas on Sunday morning and Ramsey in the evening, Everett taking the alternative appointments. On Monday both spoke in Peel but there was less support for them there. Follow-up meetings were arranged for some weeks as reported in Mona's Herald in June and July that year.
One can only imagine the Herald's editorial policy changed about
this time for there is nothing recorded in the following months.
There is an entry in the local Directory of Protestant Dissenters
meeting in Back Wellington Street, and in 1886 the Directory tells us
there is a place of worship for a company of Former Methodists at 1
Athol Street7. In this year
the M.N.C. received the Isle of Man as a Home Mission Station. John
Shaw was temporarily in charge for a year, and Conference sanctioned
the building of a chapel. Conference figures in 1888 record four
societies; we know of Ramsey, Douglas, and a cottage meeting in Laxey
but there is no record where the fourth society was centred. The
M.N.C. Conference was in two minds about taking over the Isle of Man
even then. Some said the expense was too great; others said that
surely the Isle of Man was equally worthy of missionary enterprise as
- say - Africa, and a further telling point was that many Northern
members of M.N.C. were taking holidays here, and would be glad to
find a chapel of their own denomination for holiday worship.
A site was chosen in Derby Road to cost £1800. A house to be provided in Woodbourne Square. In 1889 Edward Troughton was appointed minister and in his stay here the society moved from Athol Street to Derby Road. On Nov. 30th there is an article in The Manx Sun describing the sod cutting. The deed of sale, on April 9th, 1890 had been registered, from Wm. Todhunter and others, to the Rev. W. J. Townsend and others.
On August 9th 1890 the local press reports: 'The opening ceremony of the pretty little chapel in Derby Road will be continued next Sunday when the Rev. J. Medicraft will preach........" The official opening was to be September 21 (as per advertisement) but for some reason the ceremony, though advertised was not reported in the press. The Conference subsidised the society with grants of £130 p.a. but the society declined fairly soon. In 1904 when the Rev. C.F. Hill was minister there was an improvement until 1907, but after that a steady decline until the beginning of the 1914 war. The property was then sold to St. Thomas Church for use as a school hall ( as it still is). So the Douglas M.N.C. had a short life. Ramsey struggled on longer (see later in this sketch) but perhaps the secret lies in the fact that its foundation was never strong - it was founded on personal animosities (see IoM Times 22 Aug. to Dec. 1867) sad trouble between the Wesleyan minister and Wm. Simmin) and it was this personal feeling, rather than practical principles of M.N.C. which were apparently responsible for the non-continuance of the M.N.C. in Douglas.